3D printing technology, also known as "additive manufacturing technology", is a new type of rapid prototyping technology that uses light curing, paper lamination, or fused deposition. This technology has been used in jewellery, industrial design, architectural engineering and construction, automotive, dental and medical industries, education, geographic information, civil engineering, firearms and other fields. For the aerospace industry, 3D printing is still a very cutting-edge manufacturing technology. However, in recent years, some of the world-leading aviation manufacturing companies have begun to enter this field gradually, and the results have been noticeable.
With the gradual transition of 3D printing technology to the actual use stage, it will bring substantial technological changes to the aviation creation industry. First of all, 3D printing technology can accelerate the development of new aviation products. Everyone who has worked in design knows that it is not enough to consider the function when designing a product. It is also necessary to consider the feasibility of the process, how to check, how to guarantee the quality, etc. Three-dimensional printing, especially three-dimensional metal printing, makes the design of related core parts completely free from technological constraints.
Secondly, 3D printing technology saves cost. On the side of product prototype development, traditionally, the new product development also requires moulds to manufacture prototypes. Before the product is finalized, the mould does not need a long life, and the cost can be lower, but it is limited. Also, 3D printing technology can significantly save expensive metal materials. Due to the demand for high performance, aircraft need to use costly strategic metal materials. However, the material utilization rate of many parts is very low, most of them are less than 10%, and sometimes even only 2% -5%.
Besides, 3D printing technology can significantly reduce the weight of aircraft structures. Reducing structural weight is a basic technical requirement for aircraft development, which is directly related to the fuel economy of the aircraft.
As a magical technology, 3D printing has unique advantages. But at the same time, many shortcomings limit its widespread use in the aviation field.
To begin with the technical barrier. Enterprises in developed countries in Europe and the United States have been doing this research for many years, but they still can only make small parts. The protective atmosphere, temperature control, granularity and purity of material composition, printing speed, laser power and spot size adjustment all have strict requirements, and non-trained professionals cannot complete adjustment of related parameters.
Another equally vital point to be considered is the high cost. Still taking 3D printing equipment as an example, the cost of this machine is now around 2 million per set, and it can process 8 tons of products a year. Therefore, it is not possible to use 3D printing technology in mass production.
Last but not least is the quality of 3D printed products. Compared with traditional processing methods, the strength, stiffness and mechanical processability of 3D printing materials are still not mature enough. Due to the additive manufacturing process of layer-by-layer, no matter how tight the layer-to-layer bonding is, it is usually not comparable to traditional process parts. This means that under certain external force conditions, the printed parts are more likely to fail.
In short, only by solving the above problems one by one, can 3D printing technology be fully promoted in the field of aviation manufacturing.